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David Farmer. David Farmer. Featured
02 March 2021 Posted by 

DAVID FARMER IS COUNCIL’S NEW CEO

Saints fan from the Gong has the golden touch
DALLS SHERRINGHAM
HE’S s a St George Illawarra tragic, he has been through the harrowing tempests of corrupt, sacked councils and he favors business and tourism enterprises: meet David Farmer, the new Central Coast Council CEO.
Mr Farmer has  had the ‘golden touch’ in saving not one, but TWO disgraced councils in his career of 30 plus years.
 
And he grew up as a self-confessed ‘bogan’ from ‘frugal origins’ in the surf and footy mad Illawarra region and has a history of taking in charge of basket cases.
 
He was announced at a video linkup by Administrator Dick Persson who said Mr Farmer’s appointment was the most important decision he would make during his time trying to work out the shambles that is Central Coast Council 2021.
 
A total of 29 people considered with just three interviewed.
 
David Farmer is currently CEO of Ipswich Council, a successful enterprise of similar size to the Central Coast version and an area going through the same throes of rapid growth. It was also sacked by  the State Govt.
 
In fact, Council’s new boss has twice worked as the chief executive after a council was sacked; first in Wollongong in 2008 and then in Ipswich.
 
Mr Farmer said rebuilding ratepayers’ shattered trust in Council would be his most important challenge. He also said the trust and morale of staff also needed to be rebuilt after such a difficult time.
 
Before Wollongong, Mr Farmer was CEO of Cairns City Council for more than six years, from October 2000 until May 2007. He was involved in the development of the famous Cairns Esplanade, considered to be the best public tourist development ever.
 
Mr Farmer was in the top job at Wollongong council for 11 years before being ‘headhunted’ for the Ipswich challenge.
 
Wollongong Mayor Cr Gordon Bradbery said he was not surprised Mr Farmer had been “headhunted” by Ipswich Council because he was suited to the challenge of repairing the finances and reputation of the council.
 
“In the time I have worked with Mr Farmer, he has been an exemplary person and his skills and intelligence has been the subject of my admiration,” he said.
 
“The council has been fortunate to have him lead it.”
 
Mr Farmer started in the role in June 2007, a few months after the council offices had been raided by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and before the February 2008 public hearing that led to the dismissal of the council, the appointment of administrators and made headlines around the world.
 
He then worked with administrators and then elected councillors to rebuild the organisation’s governance, finances and service delivery capability.
 
“I had a rocky start but also a deeply satisfying journey at Wollongong,” Mr Farmer said.
 
“Ultimately success is a function of a team effort, and would like to pay my respects to the councillors I have worked with over the period and also to thank the 1000-plus staff at Wollongong City Council who make it happen every day.”
 
Mr Farmer’s appointment came after all Ipswich city councillors were sacked and an administrator put in place after damning allegations of corrupt behavior by several Ipswich councillors and executives spanning decades were revealed.
 
The former chief executive officer of Ipswich City Council and three others plead guilty to corruption charges in the district court in Brisbane following an investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
 
“There were definitely some similarities in Ipswich, most importantly the need to restore public confidence and trust,” Mr Farmer said.
 
“I wanted a role where I could bring my skills to bear on something significant. The combination of governance and growth issues in Ipswich presented that challenge.”
 
Tourism and cultural support
 
Mr Farmer’s involvement in major, progressive tourist areas such as Cairns and Mudgee bodes well for the Coast’s booming tourist industry.
 
“Some of the major strategic and economic activities that occured during my time in the role  at Wollongong included the West Dapto Urban Release area, the growth of the city’s evening economy and developments in cultural planning.”
 
“We saw a huge shift in the Wollongong’s nightlife over the past decade with many new small bars, restaurants and cafes opening up.
 
Mr Farmer said Wollongong City Council was dismissed in 2008 after a public meeting.
 
He said the incoming Wollongong council after 2008 had to work to restore confidence from the community.
 
“There were definitely some similarities in Ipswich, most importantly the need to restore public confidence and trust,” Mr Farmer said.
 
Mr Farmer said that in both Cairns and Wollongong he had worked on significant projects to restore identity to the cities.
 
“If I am to look back at my 11 years at Wollongong, there are some key projects I’m particularly proud of,” he said.
 
“The Blue Mile, a city foreshore project similar to the Cairns Esplanade — which I also worked on — and Grand Pacific Walk are two of them,” he said.
 
PROFILE OF DAVID FARMER IN IPSWICH:
 
I found this excellent profile of Mr Farmer on the Ipswich First web site:
 
‘There’s a personality player in most good school rugby league teams, often a big guy who to the cheers of the crowd breaks the line and sets up scoring opportunities for his mates.
 
He’s also the guy who’s happy to take a few hits, to set an example, to ensure those around him are as committed to the cause as he is.
 
As a teenager, self-confessed “bogan from Wollongong” and now Ipswich City Council CEO David Farmer was that guy. Sort of.
 
“I was the fat guy with the big hit or the clever pass. Then I’d have a little rest,” he says.
 
He still is the impact player, particularly if the analogy is a willingness to take on responsibility, looking adversity in the eye, and doing what it takes to win.
 
The hospital pass
 
In his professional life, Mr Farmer has taken on some big challenges. To continue the football metaphor, he’s taken what others might have seen as a hospital pass and turned it into a scoring opportunity.
 
As a 19-year-old accounting cadet, he pioneered the introduction of electronic spreadsheets for the equivalent 
 
“I come from a frugal upbringing,” he recalls.
 
“My dad was a manager in a large factory, he was involved in rugby league, and we had greyhounds in our backyard. I remember a time when I got to try Sustagen. Just once though, because dad had gotten a hold of some, and it was for the dogs.
 
“He was a successful man. He was reasonably high up the food chain at work for a tradesman, and the dogs held all sorts of track records around the place.”
 
Like his father, Mr Farmer – the junior version – also delighted in success. At school, he was among a group of high achievers. Some have gone on to manage high-end financial institutions. Others have done well in other areas.
 
The electronic spreadsheets, a 1980s corporate version of Excel, gave Mr Farmer and the team around him an opportunity to point out the value of public electricity assets which amounted to billions of dollars.
 
It resulted in asset sales which has funded new infrastructure like rail lines and roads in NSW.
 
“There were thousands of sets of fingers in it over 40 years, but I was pleased to be at the front end of it all,” Mr Farmer says.
 
A move to councils
 
He moved to Wollongong City Council where a couple of years managing budgets led to the perfect role to set up a corporate planning division. He became the corporate planner.
 
The skillset transferred to Cairns City Council, where he was strategic planner in the mid-1990s. The big win during that time, was raising enough money from the community to turn the city’s old courthouse into a public art gallery.
 
He sat through a merger of Cairns and Mulgrave councils, before taking a holiday and a punt. The holiday was a backpacking tour of Europe for three months. The punt was with a group of mates who wanted to make it rich in the wealth management game.
 
“They ended up making millions, but I wasn’t patient enough to wait,” he says.
 
Instead, he took a role as deputy CEO at Mudgee Council, a country area noted for its coal mining, good wine, hobby farms and tourism.
 
The boss moved on, and Mr Farmer found himself at the helm. That was, until he moved back to Cairns where he worked with Kevin Byrne, a strong-willed mayor and well-known businessman.
 
It was a period of considerable change for the tourism mecca.
 
Mr Farmer has three boys, aged 16, 19 and 21, “a couple bigger than me”. Back then, they were the ideal inspiration for a world-class playground which was built along the Cairns Esplanade.
 
The redevelopment of the foreshore featured a massive lagoon, not dissimilar to Ipswich’s own Orion Lagoon.  
 
Like the art gallery project 10 years earlier, the people of the city embraced the project. Council staff volunteered time to show others around, and tourists had yet another reason to visit the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.
 
Almost too close to home
 
Mr Farmer was in the far north from 2000-2007, until his hometown came calling.
 
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had launched an inquiry, later dubbed by the media as a “sex-for-development scandal” which resulted in 11 arrests and more than 100 charges.
 
Sex and money were being used as bribes. The city was broke, and administrators were wheeled in to replace a sacked council.
 
Sound familiar?
 
“Ipswich is a little bit different. It’s been a slow drip of arrests, charges, and now some convictions,” he said.
 
“Wollongong was my hometown, so you have roots which dig deep into the community, and you have a spiderweb of connections, which means you feel you own the issues.
 
“Also, I was in my mid-40s, in the prime of my career. I had a bit more to lose, and I really wasn’t sure what to do. This stuff was unprecedented. The staff were devastated. It was 16 pages every day in the local newspaper.
 
“But you have to keep your head, stay confident, and remain calm. You slowly build a team around you and work out how to save money and rebuild the place.”
 
Returning the council to elected representatives after three years of administration remains one of Mr Farmer’s proudest achievements.
 
The Ipswich challenge
 
Now, in Ipswich, anybody might be forgiven for thinking Mr Farmer is a glutton for punishment. But he doesn’t see it that way.
 
“I wanted a substantial, meaningful role that I knew might be difficult,” he says.
 
Improvements will become evident in a series of governance systems and processes that show Ipswich City Council is at a better level, he says.
 
On weekends, Mr Farmer can be seen zipping around the inner suburbs of Brisbane on his Vespa, taking time out to read a good book or cheer on his beloved St George-Illawarra Dragons.
 
During the week, it’s back to the challenge of turning the operations of a council around.
 
How long will it take?
 
“I don’t know,” he says. “Three months, four months, five months. I’d like to see some real progress, then you start to build momentum.”
 
However long, he says he’s in for the long haul.


editor

Michael Walls
Publisher
P: 0407 783 413
E: Michael@accessnews.com.au

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